Louis Cox-King: Manifestations of Conflict at John Hansard Gallery

English Student Louis Cox-King makes insightful and complex comparisons between works of art on show at Time After Time, An exhibition held at the John Hansard Gallery.

The first-floor gallery space of the John Hansard Gallery holds Familiars (1992), an installation by Hamad Butt, and one of the six works that constitute Time After Time, an exhibition of installations previously displayed at the gallery, curated by Steven Foster. Three works make their home in the space: Hypostasis, Cradle and Substance Sublimation Unit. Cradle consists of eighteen spherical glass containers, suspended from the ceiling, filled with chlorine gas and water, imitating the appearance of Newton’s cradle. The piece triggers a strange desire to see the orbs collide and smash, to allow the cradle the fulfilment of its purpose. Giving way to an impulse is to welcome destruction, of both the work itself and the health of those in its presence. Familiars speaks to the child within us – The rungs of the ladder-like Substance Sublimation Unit call to be climbed upon. Hypostasis, with its comforting curves and colourful glass elements, begs to be met with inquisitive fingers. Yet they too are filled with chemical danger. Like the other works that constitute Time After Time, Familiars presents a striking conflict. The allure of impulse is juxtaposed with the propriety of logic, the casting away of childish actions and instead the appropriation of sombre observation – of the fragility of life, the ease by which danger is posed to us, and the enthusiasm we have to walk among it.

Caroline Bergvall’s CROP (2010) presents altogether different conflicts to that of Familiars – ones of national identity, of the body, and of gender in an increasingly fractured world. Neon orange, trilingual vinyl text explores the difficulty of living in a body surrounded by international, linguistic and gendered conflict. Bergvall engages with the observer’s ability to parse information among auditory and visual disorientation. Its text is formatted to be difficult to read, made all the more trying with the ever-present speech of the text itself in its three dialects, utilising wider sensory understanding to embody the disorientation and dysphoria that imbues the work. The predicament of the alienated body is not only understood in the moment of observation, but, however, fleetingly, felt.

Charlotte Posenenske’s Vierkantrohre Serie DW (1967-2010), with its two square carboard tubes, continues this theme of conflict, questioning the integrity of commercial art. Its constructivist approach and the ease by which it is customised by individual gallery spaces question concepts of objective value and ownership of art – as well as what constitutes it. What Posenenske creates is a work which advocates social equality and the acknowledgement of the individual observer’s importance in art’s construction and meaning, as well as the questioning of who and what creates that value. It also poses an interesting question which stems from Posenenske’s later own denunciation of art: how are we to mediate our desire to create art when to do so is to become a part of an increasingly problematic movement, one which prioritises the capitalist value of art over its intellectual one?

Time After Time is not simply an amassment of previous works, but an illustration of art’s ability to problematise and deliver conflicts that we so often neglect to consider in proper detail. It is clear that these works, though many of them have been conceptualised in previous decades, still hold relevance. In a climate where relevance is increasingly ephemeral, this makes Time After Time surely worth consideration.

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